California Senate takes 'ethics refresher course' Wednesday


The purpose of the course is to teach members and their staffs to avoid potentially compromising situations. It's the latest in a series of moves by senate leaders aimed at putting political distance between them and their colleagues facing criminal charges.

The leader of California's state senate stopped all regular business on Wednesday so everyone could go "back to school" in a sense: ethics school.

"We appreciate the opportunity just to go back to the basics, to re-establish what the rules are," said state Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar).

The lessons are behind closed doors and are encouraged by leaders of both parties. Attendance at so-called ethics school is required for members and their staffs.

The curriculum includes bipartisan panel discussions, meetings with ethics attorneys and the playing out of hypothetical scenarios.

"The core of the issue here, in my view, is money and politics, and that's what we talked about," said state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento).

The senate recently suspended three Democratic members in the wake of corruption allegations.

Longtime gun control advocate Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) is charged with trafficking the same guns he was trying to regulate in exchange for thousands in campaign cash.

Ron Calderon (D-Montebello) allegedly accepted more than $60,000 in bribes to support legislation.

Roderick Wright (D-Los Angeles) was convicted of voter fraud and perjury for lying about his residence. His sentencing is set for next month.

Those three members insist they're not guilty, refuse to resign and continue to receive full pay.

Senators say after all that, Wednesday's self-reflection is needed.

"There's a perception out there, and so you can either walk away and hunker down, or you can show a little humility and look inside and ask yourself, all of us ask ourselves, How are we going to do our jobs better?" said Steinberg.

In addition to Wednesday's classes, the senate recently expanded ethics rules and new legislation is soon expected.

"This is not the end," said Steinberg.

Although Lee, Calderon and Wright continue to get paid, they've been removed from their committee assignments and were not in attendance for Wednesday's ethics classes.

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